With his nemesis gone to Los Angeles, Zack Wheeler, backed by four homers from the offense and five clutch outs from Hector Neris and Jose Alvarado, earned the pitching victory in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals.
It was a big one for the Phillies because it put them back over .500 at 54-53 and left them just 1 ½ games behind the first-place Mets in the National League East.
That’s as close to first place as the Phils have been since they woke up on May 26.
“We’re getting there,” said Wheeler, who pitched into the eighth and allowed four runs. “These are the games we need to win. We’ve been doing that. It doesn’t really matter how you win them as long as you win them. We’re keeping track and hopefully we can continue this.”
The Phils, who have won three in a row, have two more games in Washington before coming home Friday night for a three-game showdown with the Mets, who have lost five of their last six.
This division is not pretty.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining.
Wheeler lines up to pitch Sunday’s series finale against the Mets.
The right-hander pitched shutout ball through six innings and allowed a pair of runs in the seventh.
The Phils got a solo homer from Bryce Harper in the eighth inning. The homer gave the Phils a 5-2 lead and proved to be very important when Wheeler gave up a two-run homer to Josh Bell in the bottom of the inning.
Neris came on and got two outs to end the eighth as Wheeler watched from the dugout. Alvarado struck out two in the ninth for the save as new closer Ian Kennedy got a night off.
“He’s OK,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I made the decision not to use him. He warmed up Saturday and pitched Sunday and Monday. I was not comfortable putting him in and jeopardizing his health.
“Alvarado threw strikes and when he does his stuff is really good.”
Home runs accounted for all the Phillies’ runs. In addition to Harper, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto and Ronald Torreyes all went deep.
Segura hit the first pitch of the game – a down-and-in fastball from Patrick Corbin – over the left field wall to set an early tone.
Corbin went toe-to-toe with Wheeler until the seventh when Realmuto and Torreyes both clubbed homers.
Realmuto led off the inning by hammering a hanging breaking ball over the wall in right-center. The Phillies’ catcher is heating up. He has nine hits and seven RBIs in the last three games.
After Realmuto’s homer in the seventh, Alec Bohm drew a walk and came around to score when Torreyes launched his career-high fifth homer over the wall in left center.
Torreyes started in place of Didi Gregorius at shortstop as Girardi loaded up on right-handed bats against the lefty Corbin.
Torreyes' homer gave the Phils a 4-0 lead, but the Nats chipped away. Harper’s homer in the eighth was the 249th of his career and it proved to be the difference.
Harper played seven seasons in Washington before signing a 13-year, $330-million contract with the Phillies in 2019. He heard it from the fans all night. After rounding the bases, he blew the crowd a big, two-handed kiss.
The victory improved Wheeler’s record to 9-6 in 22 starts. He has a 2.57 ERA.
Three of Wheeler’s losses this season have come against the Nationals and Scherzer in particular. The three-time Cy Young winner beat Wheeler on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park then was traded later that day to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Wheeler had to be thrilled not to see Scherzer across the field Tuesday night, right?
“It didn’t register, to be honest,” he said.
Scherzer will make his Dodgers debut on Wednesday night against Houston. After that, his next start would come the following Wednesday against – you guessed it – the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Wheeler won’t go against Scherzer in that one. His next start will be plenty important, just the same.